We’ve just arrived back in Yunnan from a week in Wuyishan. We had a great trip and spent most of our days in the studio and the mountains with Master Huang and his sons. I think this year more than any other we started to understand the importance of location for the trees in the park – how the effect of shady locations and locations in full sunshine, the effect of having cliffs close to the trees and of course the age of the trees. All these factors and many more have a huge effect on the taste and aroma of the finished teas.
We decided this year to concentrate on higher end teas – older trees and better locations and to provide more detail on the location of each tea so that everyone can taste and compare for themselves.
On the last day of our trip Master Huang mentioned that they had been asked to pick and process leaves from two of the Da Hong Pao mother trees for a government researcher. Of course we didn’t get to try some, but felt very fortunate to have the opportunity to see, smell and touch these famous leaves. I thought I’d share a few photos…
Picking the Da Hong Pao mother trees
Since the water content was quite high, the leaves needed to rest for over 12 hours before they were ready for the kill green stage. We had a flight to catch the next day, so didn’t manage to stay awake until 5am when Master Huang fried the leaves, but got some pictures of the semi-finished tea the next morning.
Half finished tea – ready to have the stems and larger leaves picked then given a further roast
One of the teapots we get asked most for is the shui ping shape from Yixing Factory 1. It’s really a classic – simple shape, good clay and very functional.
Last weekend I visited a collector who’s been collecting Yixing pots since the 80’s. Over the years I’ve met some people with a lot of teapots… thousands and thousands, but this man puts all their collections to shame. He literally has many thousands. They’re stacked in crates, stuffed in cupboards, littering the floor, everywhere you look there’s teapots. It think it would be fair to politely say that perhaps it’s a bit of an obsession!
I mentioned to him that I was looking for shui ping pots from the 80’s. After hunting around and finding a few here and a few there in different cupboards, he pulled out a cardboard box, filled with rolls of yellowed newspaper. The rolls were still sealed with their old, crumbling sellotape. Upon unwrapping a few, it became clear that we’d struck gold. They were filled with well made, late 80’s shui pings.
He said bought these in the late 80’s. They were cheap then! Indeed the newspaper is dated from 1993. Chances like this don’t come too often, so I quickly said I’d take them all.
Back at home, opening up the rolls, it was an interesting experience. These pots hadn’t even seen daylight for over 20 years! They were all in perfect condition, the clay has a lovely even sheen and the craftsmanship very good.
Over the past 6 months or so, we’ve been looking around in Malaysia and testing the clays of some different older teapots. Although we’ve been generally happy with the pots we’ve received from Chen Ju Fang and her apprentices, we began to realise more and more that pots made in the 80’s and 90’s could often match or produce better results than many of the pots coming from her studio – and often at a cheaper price too!
From the point of view of running a business, it might not be the best move – it’s very easy just to order batches of contemporary pots and have a stable line of products. Finding older pots takes much more work and they’re often only available in small batches or individually, but since our main aim is to find and sell good tea it’s nice to be able to offer the best teaware we can find to brew it in, even if that means a bit more work!
Over the coming few days, weeks and months we’ll be posting a range of pots. We’ll offer some less expensive pots that Yixing factory 5 produced in the 90’s, some 80’s and earlier pots from Yixing factory 1, some antique pots and kettles. Hopefully there should be something nice for every budget and people at every stage in their tea journey.
The economy in Malaysia is terrible. Earlier in the year they brought in a 6% sales tax, which left restaurant owners, cabbies and other small business owners complaining about a fall off in trade. The Malaysian ringgit continued its slow and steady decline in value against the dollar, renminbi and pound sterling, making imports more expensive. Then the Chinese stock market and economy began to look increasingly shaky and the ringgit dropped sharply.
This is terrible news for Malaysian business owners. Times are getting more and more difficult for them.
In China, the puerh tea market has also taken a bit of a nosedive. Those speculating in big factory teas have watched the value of their investments plummet.
All this has put some pressure on the tea market, but also created some interesting opportunities for tea lovers.
We’ve spent the past couple of months hunting around in Malaysia and Fangcun tea market in Guangzhou. We had a clear goal in mind – to find tea that was unrecognised, underpriced and of exceptional quality. We tasted many teas, went down some fruitless paths, bargained hard and in the end, we’ve managed to secure stock of 3 aged puerh teas which we feel epitomise our goals.
Since the wrapper, provenance or story weren’t our goals with these teas, we’ve wrapped them with a simple plain wrapper, stamped with a Peacock. These are teas for tea lovers at a price that’s difficult to find in the market. Each one has its own charms and I can highly recommend them all.
Check them out, on our puerh tea page.
In 2012, we shipped a case of our Bulang Puer Tea directly from China to one of our friend’s warehouses in Malaysia. The rest of the tea, we shipped back to the UK and made available for sale.
Since moving to Malaysia, I’ve been meaning to collect this case from his warehouse and have just gotten around to it. The difference in the ageing is striking. Our UK stored cakes (2 years in the UK, 1 in Malaysia) are still quite green, with a high aroma and freshness in the taste. The Malaysian stored (3 years in Malaysia) cakes are already beginning to taste aged. It’s difficult to see in the pictures, but the taste is obviously very different. The greenness has gone, the leaves are a little browned. There’s very little aroma, but they’re thick, smooth and very nice to drink. It has given me a little extra confidence that our move was worthwhile!
Malaysian stored on the left, UK on the right